Avoiding the naff.
Over the years I have looked at soi 33 through slightly jaundiced eyes. As a regular of lower Sukhumvit areas (sois 4, 7, 7/1 and 23 and even 22) I wondered why people want to go Soi 33 and pay a lot more for something that is almost certainly mutton: at least in Cowboy and Nana you might find a lost lamb, or maybe a gimmer or theave at worst. But in recent months I have become to take to Soi 33 more and more: more for what it does not have than what it has.
Even the biggest fans of Soi 4 admit that the area grows less salubrious by the day. There are more bars and just as many people as before: if not more. But I am afraid that the manner and dress sense of those people is at best described as poor. Vests, tattoos and attitude may go down well on the round ball terraces on a Saturday but they were never intended as street wear: well not when I was brung up! So with even the best places so infested I have been looking elsewhere to drink.
Soi 33 and soi 33/1 have a host of good bars which are largely populated by ex-pat businessmen as opposed to the sex tourists in Soi 4. And whilst some of the bars may have a number of courtesans in attendance they stay in the background until invited. The 'buy me drink' approaches do not happen because in certain bars such a request is a certain road to unemployment. As one bar owner put it to me: if they can not get a guy to offer then they should not be there. Of course I am not talking about all of the bars: many of the artist bars (as they are known) are exactly as imagined: full of expensive scrounging moggies. So the trick is to know where to go.
I will briefly cover the pubs because they are very much part of the scene. In 33/1 (off Sukhumvit Road) there are the Bull's Head and the Robin Hood . For those who know English pubs these two can be quickly described respectively as a good tenancy and a typical managed house. I often think the Bulls Head, in Bangkok , is like a pub in an English town centre. Early doors it is busy with suits slurping back pints: there is a good buzz and most people seem to know each other. The Robin Hood is more clinical with uniformed staff and a manager wearing a tie! At the bottom of Soi 33/1 there is a big parking area for the Japanese food store that is there. In the far corner is a gate to soi 33/2 (entrance from soi 33). This gate closes mid evening about 9 pm, miss it and the way to Soi 33 is back up the Sukhumvit Road past a magnificent flower stall.
At the top of Soi 33, in the basement of the UBC Building , is the Londoner pub . This is a big operation that brews its own beer, including a very passable bitter. Wednesday night is the big night here when it is two for one. This bar is popular with local businessmen: both Thai and farang. Of course these three pubs sell food and booze only!
Now to the bars that sell the third item as well as f & b. All most all the 33 bars have a happy hour that ends at 9 pm, this makes most drinks reasonably priced in the happy hour and then depending upon the bar's raison d'etre the prices go up.
The busiest bar on the Soi is actually in Soi 33/2. The Office is a modern high spacey construction that is over seen by Aussie Bob. Large screen telly's and the Australian empathy with sport make this a sports bar as well as a good drinking spot. Drinks here are reasonable in Happy hour (to 10 pm) and fair outside (90/125 Baht normal drink): but I think the point about all these bars is that they really do not want cheap charlies, nor, god forbid, the great unwashed from Soi 4. In the Office there is a host of original-fully-licensed-software who serve your drinks, help you enjoy the cocktail hour and more. Then if you must, and many do, bar fines are 1,200 Baht.
Just across Soi 33/2 is Mojos this failed miserably with it's previous management which saw it start as a top end music bar and end up as well I am not sure and I am sure the then management had no idea either. However Bob has now taken over and has linked it with the next door bar, on that side, which is a decent sized pool bar with 4 tables plus an unusual circular pool table. The old Mojos is still a music bar with a massive collection of vcd's as well food and the other two products sold in bars in Bangkok . Various special events are planed and it will be interesting to see how this concept develops.
Opposite this soi is Livingstone' s which is a bit of a hash of a bar, restaurant, swimming pool and rooms. I am not sure why but this operation has never really got going: I suspect because as it is described and nobody is quite sure what it really is? Near the entrance to Livingstone's is the CK Sports bar . This is a new bar owned by Chris from Finland . Chris has been a ex-pat here and Malaysia for a number of years and has just joined the bar owners club. The learning curve is nearly vertical at the moment but he seems a good sort so another spot to see what happens!
The next Soi down from 33/2 has the Wall Street bar on the corner and many would suggest that this is the HQ of rugby in Bangkok . Mainly Kiwi's, the customers are certainly oval ball enthusiasts and this is a great place to watch the six nations as well the super 12's etc., as they have the SA satellite as does the Office and Lookie Lookie among others. One interesting aspect of Wall Street is the spin off and separate section upstairs, approached from the side soi. This is the one 33 bar where things do, sometimes, get a little out of hand!
Just behind Wall Street is the Lookie Lookie bar which is probably number 2 to the Office in terms of popularity. This is a large bar with a big screen at the far end and a host of willing back rubbers who will more than happily accept a drink should the offer be made. This bar is owned by another Aussie, Brad, who is much less hands on than the usually present Bob around the corner. Brad also owns the Tenderloin opposite this soi. The Tenderloin is a cross between a pub and canteen with some good basic grills and other meals being served in the dining area, which has an authentic canteen feel about it. The best part about this operation is the house wine at 575 Baht a bottle, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with the Aussie wine so offered. In fact there can not be a cheaper place in town for a bottle of red wine and a decent steak!
Opposite the Lookie Lookie bar is the Green Parrot bar : this is the home of the Siam Cricket Club thus confirming soi 33 as one of the hot spots for team sports in Bangkok: probably because of all those dreaded antipodeans who inhabit this area.
There is one other bar I will mention and that is Demonia (formerly the Cage). I have caterpillered past a few times and attempts have been made to get me in: but there never seem to be any customers. The first drinks price is ludicrous but thereafter the prices are supposed to be reasonable. However I have read several comments by those who have entered and received clip joint style bills and treatment. And I am afraid that is rather the vibes that I picked up. If anybody can verify to the contrary please let me know.
I have not touched on the many Artists and other bars in the soi, mainly because they are all much of a muchness with plenty of eager backrubbers demanding expensive lady drinks with further consummation requiring a Korean or Japanese bank balance: or more importantly a willingness to spend that amount. And sadly the final bill issued sometimes has little relevance to consumption.
I now enjoy Soi 33 more than most other bar sois and if I am going for a drink that is where I tend to head. But, of course, I know where to go: and now so do you!